Bruce Springsteen’s song catalogue, which numbers in the hundreds, chart’s the life of the ordinary man – ‘This Hard Land’, ‘Thunder Road, ‘Badlands’, ‘My Hometown’, ‘Waitin’ on a Sunny Day’, ‘Tougher than the rest’, ‘Walk like a man’, ‘The River’, ‘Better Days’, ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ … the list goes on. Springsteen tells stories of ordinary people and it is to this that we connect. And through connection, he can often deliver a powerful message.
“The mistake is in thinking that you are those songs,” he said in a 1974 interview with ZigZag. “To me a song is a vision, a flash, and what I see is characters in situations.”
Unlike Springsteen, as communicators and as companies we too often struggle to connect the people who matter to the vision we have. Without this connection it is difficult to build trust without trust we can never truly achieve freedom to operate.
Too often we think that building acceptance is enough, when in fact building acceptance does not equate to building trust. Too often as communicators we point to the benefits of our product or our service and think that if we just shout louder we will be heard. We won’t. Unlike Springsteen we too often tell ourselves that we are the song.
We should be more like Springsteen and tell a story to create vision. One of the major drivers of employee engagement is consistently shown to be how well an organization’s leaders can connect the people with the company’s strategy – its vision of where it wants to go. But most of the time we simply focus on the what and the how – turn the wheel, product more widgets and we will be successful – rather than connecting to they why what we do matters and the difference it can make, to others and indeed to ourselves.
The current disconnect between modern agriculture and what society believes is its sustainable future is in large part because of a failure to create a credible vision. If you can create a vision and lay out how you might head towards it, your stakeholders will more often than not, create space, give you credit and allow you to undertake the journey from where you are now. But your vision needs to be credible, it needs to be well told through stories and you have to have some skin in the game.
The power of Springsteen’s music is in large part because he creates a vision with us. In ‘Thunder Road’ Springsteen creates a vision we can share of a young guy hoping this time it will work … “The screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways. Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays, Roy Orbison singing for the lonely. Hey that’s me and I want you only. Don’t turn me home again I just can’t face myself alone again … Don’t run back inside”. We are there by his side, rooting for him, hoping this time it will be different.
Right now in my industry which is agriculture, we don’t have the shared vision we need – sustainable food production means different things to different people and there isn’t any global agreement on how we might achieve sustainable food production. And without a vision … without a story – we will all be running in Monty Python’s ‘Race to Nowhere’.
But we should not fall into the trap of forcing a vision onto those whom we want to change. A vision is only powerful if it is created together and if it is something to which we can all relate. We must all be able to see ourselves in the future we want to create – this is the power of Springsteen and as communicators it is what we must seek to achieve.